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State of linear water infrastructure discussed at industry webinar
September 24th, 2021 8:02 pm     A+ | a-

By Nadia Todorova

I was delighted to participate in a Sept. 23 webinar on uncovering water infrastructure solutions that was part of an ongoing INFRAIntelligence series being presented by ReNew Canada.

The event featured an insightful and in-depth conversation about linear water infrastructure in Ontario. Three other panelists and I shared our thoughts on the subject and discussed the present state of affairs.

Other panelists were Devan Thomas, global conveyance market sector leader at AECOM, Shaun McKaigue, president of FER-PAL, and Bill Shea, director of distribution and collection for Toronto Water.

We covered many topics such as the need for continued funding for repair and replacement of municipal water infrastructure and the importance of proper asset management. We also addressed steps government should be taking to tackle Ontario’s aging and failing water infrastructure.

Forums like these provide a great opportunity to discuss innovative methods to improve conditions on the ground and talk about continued best practices. The hour-long conversation passed quickly as we each provided our perspectives on underground water infrastructure renewal options and discussed the findings of ReNew Canada’s recent linear water infrastructure survey.

The ReNew Canada survey found that an alarming number of respondents indicated they often encounter lead infrastructure when doing watermain renewal or rehabilitation. It also concluded that environmental considerations are poised to play a pivotal role in the decision-making for future asset renewal strategies. Another, perhaps unsurprising finding of the survey, which was also reflected in the results of the polling data during the webinar, was that cost remains the greatest obstacle to gaining infrastructure renewal.
I was pleased to hear the other panelists agree that asset management has made progress in Ontario. There was also consensus that asset management is an important piece of the puzzle to ensure that linear water infrastructure is rehabilitated and looked after in the proper way. A key takeaway was that asset management practices have come a long way but there is still more work to be done.
I highlighted our latest commissioned study, called Water Infrastructure in the 21st Century: Smart and Climate-Savvy Asset Management Policies, done by Tamer E. El-Diraby, a professor in the department of civil and mineral engineering at the University of Toronto. The report had some worrying findings, namely that millions of cubic metres of treated drinking water are being pumped into the ground every year across municipalities in Ontario due to leaky and broken pipes.

Many municipalities report a leakage rate of 10 per cent but consultants who did on-the-ground analysis found the leakage rate could be as high as 40 per cent. As I noted during the discussion, these findings are quite alarming and reflect the fact that our water infrastructure is aging and in dire need of repair.

A lot of the discussion focused on asset management and the progress that has been made in this field. It was also part of the “good news” update in RCCAO’s study, which found there has been significant improvement in asset management practices across Ontario municipalities, especially over the last decade, so it’s important that government stay the course and continue to provide funds for asset management projects. Asset management is not only crucial in terms of improving asset conditions and managing assets in a more effective and prudent way but also in terms of providing prioritization of projects for infrastructure funding.

The discussion also touched on the fact water is incredibly cheap in Canada, and for that reason, many municipalities decided just to produce more water rather than fix their leaking pipes. However, it was noted that the municipalities are now beginning to recognize that this has become a major issue.

Panelists also discussed that the public is getting more sophisticated in understanding investments in infrastructure and holding politicians to account for the level of service that infrastructure is providing. A watermain leakage is doubly bad because not only do you have to treat the water and pump it, but a leak is robbing capacity for other uses and the water also makes its way back into the sewers and must be conveyed back to the wastewater treatment plant.

Regarding leak management in Toronto, it was highlighted that the city is managing the issue by relining watermains and replacing them, with Toronto Water spending more than $1 billion a year on capital replacement projects and, over the last five years, more than $300 million on just relining watermains. It was noted that the program is having positive results. There were about 1,500 watermain breaks six years ago and now it’s down to about 700, due to a combination of relining and replacing pipes.

There was consensus among panelists that there’s been a shift towards protecting the environment and insistence on asset management projects. This will continue to be a topic of great interest for the RCCAO, and we look forward to further discussions and work on the issue.

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